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Alberta government boosts legal aid lawyer rates

Defence lawyer associations have been pressuring province for legal aid increases
Defence lawyers and their staff gathered outside Red Deer Court House on Sept. 23, 2022 to protest the province’s refusal to provide fair compensation for legal aid cases. (Advocate file photo)

The Alberta government has boosted the hourly rate to $125 from $100 for legal aid lawyers who have taken job action to protest under-funding.

Alberta Justice Minister and Attorney General Tyler Shandro announced the new funding in a news release on Wednesday morning.

“I want to thank all legal aid lawyers for their patience and advocacy as we have worked our way through the review,” says Shandro. “Our commitment to review all aspects of legal aid funding remains in place and will be completed in the new year. I also want to commend my colleagues and Premier Smith, who recognized the need for further funding for the legal aid system.”

A group of four defence lawyer associations including the Red Deer Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, which had joined forces to pressure the government to boost legal aid funding through escalating job action, was apparently blindsided by the announcement.

“The defence lawyers associations received 15 minutes notice that the Government of Alberta would be issuing a press release this morning,” they said in a news release that came out shortly after the government announcement.

“We did not have information as to its details until the release was made public. While our members will meet this evening to discuss this development, our organizations have been putting unrelenting pressure on the government for this sort of meaningful good faith increase to the tariff since August.

“We anticipate a more fulsome press release from all four organizations tomorrow.”

The government instructed Legal Aid Alberta in April to conduct a modernization review of the system, which covers legal costs for those who cannot afford their own representation. Recommendations were submitted to Shandro in October.

The same month, the hourly rate for legal aid work was boosted to $100 per hour from $92.40 using federal money that had become available. At the same time, a financial threshold used to determine an accused’s eligibility to get legal aid help was also raised by 8.2 per cent, as was the block billing amount, a flat rate covering a set of common legal services required in court cases.

At the time, the defence lawyers associations said that increase was inadequate and that a 20 per cent increase would be needed to adjust for inflation since the rates were last set in 2015. In late September, lawyers refused to take on any new legal aid cases.

Legal aid lawyers in B.C. are paid $113 to 124.73 an hour depending on experience and Ontario lawyers are paid $109.14 to $136.43. Alberta pays the same rate to all lawyers, regardless of experience.

Legal Aid Alberta will update internal systems and prepare to implement the modernization recommendations in spring 2023. Legal Aid is funded through the Alberta Law Foundation and the provincial and federal governments.

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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